We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

So, Mr Dorsey and Mr Zuckerberg, how are your fact checkers getting on with that New York Post story about Hunter Biden?

“When will they be reporting? Surely not after the election?”
“What have they found out so far?” You know you could check on the veracity of the emails by asking other recipients – have you done that?”
“Have you liaised with the FBI regarding the progress of their no doubt rigorous ongoing investigation of the material found on the computers?”
“Why was the dissemination via your platforms of illegally obtained material not a problem for the New York Times when it released a ‘trove’ of Donald Trump’s tax returns at the end of September?”
“Why was the dissemination via your platforms of leaked material not a problem when someone leaked Christine Blasey Ford’s confidential letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein that accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault?”
“Oh, and about that whole Russian collusion story about which we heard so much on Facebook and Twitter but which turned out to be nothing…”

I would so enjoy seeing the Senate Judiciary Committee make the cool, hip founders of Twitter and Facebook squirm with a barrage of questions that laid bare their revolting left-wing billionaire hypocrisy, before swatting away the law they have been hiding behind to censor their political enemies while pretending to be mere providers of a means of communication. The Republicans are as mad as hell and they ain’t gonna take it any more. Yay! Go Republicans! And Go Democrats, too, because Joe Biden wants to revoke Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act too. So now that all sides agree, let’s do this thing!

Or perhaps not. All laws passed to acclaim from both sides of the aisle turn out badly. It is a law of nature, like Boyle’s or Murphy’s. Besides that, as Andy Kessler argues in the Wall Street Journal,

…if we repeal 230, we’ll end up with more censorship. Why? Because if platforms are suddenly liable for everything posted, the knee-jerk reaction will be to take down everything questionable, leaving us with giant receptacles of Baby Shark videos, which would diminish the channels small businesses use to reach customers. Then, say goodbye to competition. There are hundreds of smaller social media competitors that wouldn’t be able to afford the software, let alone the tens of thousands of humans, to take down posts.

There’s no simple way to “fix” Section 230 either. The feds could require nonpartisan, balanced views. But who decides what’s balanced? We’d be back to where we started. Any fix would open a can of worms of special interests, maybe even a new Digital Diction Department staffed by justice warriors deciding which phrases are no longer acceptable, like “master bedroom” or even “preference.” And then the law would get larded with special exceptions. The thinking would be, “Let politicians say what they want, for democracy’s sake, but protesters should also get a pass, depending on their grievances.” It would never end.

Are lockdowns and government missteps “teachable moments” for libertarianism?

Like a number of other readers of this blog, I have wondered how or whether the COVID-19 disaster, and the government responses to it, might actually lead to a sort of “libertarian moment” when people wake up to the insight, which this blog likes to make from time to time, that “the State is not your friend”. It might be too early to know whether the clampdowns will have this effect on people, but they might. During the 1940s the policy of food rationing, continued through the decade, and only ended by the time of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, became hated. Churchill, with his gift for a phrase (I hope Boris Johnson remembers this), said his party would “Set the People Free”; he also talked of a “Bonfire of Controls”. If Mr Johnson has any sense, he will embrace such a move as soon as possible.

The failures so far of government over issues such as test and trace, and the chopping and changing of direction, with the current 3-tired restriction system, are surely examples of the folly of state central planning. As I have noted before, the National Health Service in many ways demonstrates the weaknesses of 1940s-era central planning. FA Hayek’s point about the “fatal conceit” of socialism, and of the hubristic idea that planners can run a society so much more intelligently than through the extended order of a free society, is truer than ever. On the other hand, those parts of the economy able to work more or less freely, such as supermarkets, delivery services and internet-driven communications channels, have more than risen to the challenge. That point needs to be rammed home over and over.

One of the problems with the 2008-09 financial crash was that a false narrative was allowed to take root that the cause was “evil bankers”, “greed” and laughably, “unregulated capitalism”. The cause was in fact more about state-influenced imprudent lending, too-big-to-bail promises of bailouts, years of underpriced money, and unwarranted confidence in risk management models. (See this excellent analysis in the book Alchemists of Loss, by Kevin Dowd and Martin Hutchinson.) We are arguably still paying the price for not pushing those insights hard enough. So I’d argue that one important lesson of the current shit-show is that it is vital to point out that it is free individuals, able to act on their initiative and through voluntary co-operation, and not the hubristic powers of a State, that holds the key to getting us to a better place.

Addendum: Here is a good point made by Sam Welsh in the Sunday Telegraph today:

I am not surprised that, among friends of all ages, I increasingly hear the question: why can’t we be trusted to judge the risk for ourselves? I had originally thought the pandemic would push society to the Left. But there is something morally offensive about a virus strategy that devalues all that makes life worth living, and which hinges on the incompetence of the Government and the state’s chronic inability to foresee the demands that will be placed upon it. That it then blames its failures on the very individuals it claims to serve only compounds the outrage.

The Challenger disaster seen through Guardian spectacles

Some chick called Emma Brockes writes in the Guardian, “The Challenger disaster: we can’t say we weren’t warned about American hubris”.

The article itself will add nothing to your understanding of how the space shuttle came to break apart soon after launch. I might give the Netflix documentary a chance, despite the Guardian‘s description of it as “a timely meditation on the perils of exceptionalism”. It seems harsh to condemn anything on the basis of what the Guardian says about it, especially since the Guardian article in question contained incoherent sentences like the second one in this quote:

In a US news report about the space programme, a TV host says, with amazement, that the newest Nasa recruits include, “two blacks, an oriental, and six women”. (One of them, Sally Ride, is shown being asked by a journalist whether, when she tells a man she’s an astronaut, he believes her.)

Got that? Sally Ride told a male journalist that she was an astronaut. Then he (the journalist) asked her (the astronaut) whether he believed her.

[Edit: Correction to the above! And apology to Ms Brockes, in the unlikely event that she ever reads this. Commenter “Jim” pointed out that the sentence I quoted makes perfect sense if you see the final “he” as not referring to the male journalist but to the general category of men who Sally Ride might tell that she is an astronaut.

Edit to the Edit: Niall Kilmartin made the same point as Jim did but in such a gentlemanly fashion that I did not quite get it. I would happily delete this entire section in embarrassment, but my rule for blogging is that the very things you want to stealth-edit most are those you should not touch.]

So much for the article. However the readers’ comments (the Graun made the mistake of allowing them) are rather good. The most recommended comment is by “chunkychips”:

This is a bizarre article. We’re supposed to believe that a NASA cockup and some dude who approved the launch of the space shuttle 30 odd years ago based on the data available to him at the time is an example of American exceptionalism?? What?

I’m afraid I’m just left with the image of a bitter writer watching the documentary and a little light goes off in her head “oooh, I could make a massive and ludicrous leap into condemning a country of 300 odd million people for ever daring to try”.

I’m so sick of the drip drip of articles that condemn western countries for not being as good as they think they are. They never stop to think of the undeniable fact that the western world is still the best place to live in human history regardless of who you are and what you believe or think. So yes, pretty damn exceptional actually and worth protecting and preserving.

The second most recommended comment is by “YorkieBrummy”:

Contrast with the impeccable safety records of China and Russia.

Is UK/US “exceptionalism” the new Graun buzzword?

The same commenter then adds,

Nothing about NASA’s toxic masculinity?

Scottish ‘Government’ latest assault on private property rights

This proposes to make it illegal to take in a lodger/paying guests unless you have a licence from the local council. To get a licence you’d have to make sure your house met state-approved ‘standards’.

It’s intended as legislation to clamp down on noisy AirBnB flats in cities, but is also being used as a vehicle for ScotGov to meet their targets for eco-friendly homes: Any opportunity is used to force private owner-occupiers to “upgrade” their homes to be more energy-efficient (and have the right number of smoke/fire/heat detectors).

Deal or No Deal?

Amazingly I appear not to have yet used that headline.

The BBC reports,

Brexit: Trade talks with the EU are over, says No 10

Talks between the UK and EU over a post-Brexit trade agreement are “over”, Downing Street has said.

No 10 argued there was “no point” in discussions continuing next week unless the EU was prepared to discuss the detailed legal text of a partnership.

UK chief negotiator Lord Frost said he had told EU counterpart Michel Barnier there was now no “basis” for planned talks on Monday.

Number 10 said the two sides had agreed to talk again next week – by phone.

So talks are not quite over after all.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Two bad things have happened at once. The first is that the phrase itself has been captured. “Safe spaces” for students are used to justify the “no-platforming” of thinkers who warn against the oppressiveness of “woke” doctrines. The Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson is only the most famous of the victims: he was offered a visiting fellowship at Cambridge but then, in March last year, was denied it after protests that his views might upset students. The second is that British universities, craving cash and students from foreign countries, have become dangerously uncritical of the terms on which they accept them. This is particularly true in relation to some Arab countries and even more so in relation to China.”

Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph (£)

“We are reducing its distribution on our platform”

The New York Post has a big story. Very big.

Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad

By Emma-Jo Morris and Gabrielle Fonrouge

Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company, according to emails obtained by The Post.

The never-before-revealed meeting is mentioned in a message of appreciation that Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of Burisma, allegedly sent Hunter Biden on April 17, 2015, about a year after Hunter joined the Burisma board at a reported salary of up to $50,000 a month.

“Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure,” the email reads

An earlier email from May 2014 also shows Pozharskyi, reportedly Burisma’s No. 3 exec, asking Hunter for “advice on how you could use your influence” on the company’s behalf.

The blockbuster correspondence — which flies in the face of Joe Biden’s claim that he’s “never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings” — is contained in a massive trove of data recovered from a laptop computer.

But the story of what is happening to that story is even bigger. The Daily Mail reports,

Outrage as Facebook AND Twitter throttle story about Joe Biden meeting son’s Ukraine partners until it’s been vetted by its third party so-called ‘fact-checkers’.

The Mail article describes how Sohrab Ahmari, an editor at the New York Post, tried to tweet about his paper’s story, and got this message:

Tweet not sent

Your Tweet couldn’t be sent because the link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful. Visit our Help Center to learn more.

And Andy Stone, policy communications director at Facebook, has announced:

While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want to be clear that this story is eligible to be fact checked by Facebook’s third-party fact checking partners. In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform.

Edit: Not knowing much about social media myself, I have two questions for readers. (1) What can people do to spread the New York Post‘s report about Joe Biden’s lies regarding Hunter Biden’s business dealings in the Ukraine? (2) What can people do to spread the even more important news that Facebook and Twitter are censoring this story?

Update: Via Instapundit, I learn that Sohrab Ahmari’s twitter account has been suspended. They are silencing the opinion editors of major newspapers.

Samizdata quote of the day

The point of “public service obligations” were because costs were high and bandwidth was limited. Broadcasters, especially those chasing ad money might not make programmes for disabled people, or obscure arts shows.

When you solve costs and increase bandwidth, anyone can make a show and people do. You want stuff about Keynesian economics, the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. There are lots of blind people making videos on YouTube, people of nearly all varieties of politics from communists to libertarians, the history of corsetry, how to repoint a wall. There are few colour, sex or whatever bars because this stuff is cheap to make.

Some geezer on Tim Worstall’s site discussing the anachronistic dinosaur known as the BBC

The “envy of the world”

As the Daily Telegraph points out in its sharp (behind paywall) takedown of the UK government’s lockdown enthusiasm, the argument that we need to crush what is left of the UK economy to “protect” the National Health Service is based on the idea that the NHS will be overwhelmed by Covid-19 (despite the UK having had the late spring and summer to prepare for now). As the newspaper points out, the NHS is always “overwhelmed” this time of year because of flu and other winter-related bugs and diseases:

“But this is a perennial crisis. The NHS struggles under normal conditions in the winter because the system is completely dysfunctional. The Prime Minister needs to be honest about all of this and admit that not everything has gone according to plan. He needs to explain exactly why he is shutting down so much of the economy again and why he believes that drastically reducing social and family contacts is a price worth paying. He obviously wants to buy more time, but he needs to tell us how much and what for – and to explain convincingly why isolating the vulnerable (a strategy which seems ever more attractive by the day) while allowing the rest of the country to move on isn’t a better way forward. He needs to sell and explain his vision, not simply expect the rest of us to accept it automatically. Above all, he needs to spell out his Covid exit strategy. Britain’s economy and society cannot face another six months of the current madness.”

I occasionally read that the current “Tory” (yup, the scare quotes are there for a reason, folks) is moving away from all that ideological Thatcherite stuff about freedom, markets, scepticism of Big Government, to a more “pragmatic”, paternalistic approach. And yet the past few months have surely rammed home the message that the State does a lot of things very badly, while private enterprise, given the opportunity and freedom, does things rather better. The contrast between the ingenuity of supermarkets and their inventory management, on the one hand, and the NHS and its clunky, Soviet-style resource allocation, on the other, is harder and harder to ignore (example: cancer patients). And yet a vast swathe of UK public opinion, reinforced by all those cute rainbow symbols about “our NHS”, buys into the idea that this creation of late 1940s socialism and central planning is one of the high points of Western civilisation. We want to erase the very “problematic” Lord Horatio Nelson from Greenwich, apparently, but woe betide anyone who so much as suggests the NHS isn’t one of the Good Things of UK history. Remember the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony where, just before Daniel Craig as 007 did his skit with the Queen, we had a whole choreographed display honouring the NHS?

Sentimentality, Charles Dickens’ besetting vice as a novelist, is, I fear, shared by much of the UK public. It is an illness every bit as bad as that of COVID-19.

(As a corrective, I can recommend The Welfare State We’re In, by James Bartholomew. The book challenges many of the founding myths around the NHS, such as the idea that only the very rich got medical care before the late 1940s).

Onchocerca volvulus and freedom of speech

There is a horrible disease prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa called onchocerciasis or “river blindness”. The black flies that live near rivers carry a parasite, a tiny worm called onchocerca volvulus. When the fly bites a human the parasite worm is injected into the human’s body. Then…

Within the human body the adult female worm (macrofilaria) produces thousands of baby or larval worms (microfilariae) which migrate in the skin and the eye.

Sometimes sufferers can see “tangled threads or worms in their vision, which were microfilariae moving freely in the aqueous humor of the anterior chamber of the eye”. This will be one of the last things they ever see before they lose their vision altogether.

I have been haunted for years by one account of how people come to be infected with this disease. It goes like this: a fly lands on a child. They swat it away, like they’ve been taught. Another fly lands. They swat it away again. And so on, thousands of times. Until one day the child is too tired or too excited or too distracted and they fail to swat away the fly. Then they get the disease, right? Actually, no: it usually takes several bites before they are infected. So there is a period when they think, well, a fly bit me but nothing has happened to me so far – the grown ups must be exaggerating. You can no doubt predict how the story ends. Once infection does occur it is irreversible.

Today’s Sunday Times reports,

Prosecutor criticises ‘sinister’ Met for investigating Darren Grimes over interview

Scotland Yard’s criminal investigation of a conservative activist over his interview with the historian David Starkey is “sinister and foolish”, according to a former director of public prosecutions.

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven said the Metropolitan Police’s pursuit of Darren Grimes, a pro-Brexit campaigner, was “deeply threatening of free speech”. Mr Grimes, 27, has said that police want to interview him under caution over a controversial interview uploaded to YouTube in the summer, in which Dr Starkey said that slavery could not have been genocide as there are “so many damn blacks” still around.

Mr Grimes is facing investigation for an offence of stirring up racial hatred, which falls under the Public Order Act. The offence carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

The decision to pursue the publisher of an interview has resulted in widespread criticism and concerns about the threat posed to freedom of speech. The force has confirmed that it began an investigation on September 25 after seeking advice from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Lord Macdonald, head of the CPS between 2003 and 2008, told The Times yesterday: “Dr Starkey was roundly condemned for his remarks and has since lost all his academic positions.

“But offensiveness is not a crime and for the police now, weeks later, to target the journalist who interviewed him is both sinister and foolish. It looks like they are letting themselves be used as part of a political stunt — and, what’s worse, a stunt that is deeply threatening to free speech.”

For most of his career Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, better known as Ken Macdonald, was the very model of a left wing liberal activist lawyer. It is good to see that the flies can still be swatted by the left hand of the British body politic. In fact the police investigation is being swatted from several sides, and may soon be quietly shelved. Even so, as Brendan O’Neill writes in an article on the case for Spiked,

And yet, even the existence of this investigation is worrying, even if it does soon fall apart. We should keep the champagne on ice if the Met comes to its senses and drops its pursuit of Grimes, because we will still need to ask ourselves how this could happen. It strikes me that it is the natural result of the slow-motion decay of freedom of speech in this country, of the past few years of Leveson inquiries into the free press, police arrests of trolls for making offensive comments, the arrest of comics and feminists for saying ‘incorrect’ things, the use of public-order legislation to punish controversial opinion and the extraordinary growth of informal clampdowns on free speech too, from the cult of safe spaces on campus to Twitterstorms against anyone who questions the illiberal ideology of wokeness. Too many people have been cavalier about the demise of freedom of speech and the result is this: the police investigating someone for having a discussion.

The darkness in my vision might just be approaching old age, but sometimes I think I see tiny threadlike forms twist and writhe.

I thought they were better than this: recollections of how the London Times covered Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination

Two years ago the worldwide media furore over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court was at its height. Every second story in the British press seemed to be about Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. Some may find it difficult to cast their minds back to the fevered atmosphere of that time. In these enlightened days of 2020 we rest secure in the knowledge that American politicians of all sides respect the principle of the presumption of innocence, which is why a TV report about Tara Reade’s accusation of sexual assault against Joe Biden is only being shown in Australia.

The Times of London is the Times. It has been the voice of the British establishment for over two centuries. It is seen by many, including itself, as the standard bearer for serious journalism on serious issues for serious people. I have been a Times subscriber for many years, as my parents were before me. At several points over that time my faith in the paper wavered, but never enough to make me switch to another paper. Which one would be better? The Guardian? The Telegraph? The Daily Mail? So ingrained is my own habit of regarding the Times as at bottom a responsible newspaper that I had to spend some time checking that its coverage of the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh really was as bad as I remembered.

→ Continue reading: I thought they were better than this: recollections of how the London Times covered Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination

Samizdata quote of the day

No place has got rich – that is, the population enjoying a multiplicity of those three squares and a roof – without being roughly capitalist, roughly free market and trading across the borders of that place or society. Non-capitalism, non-marketism and autarky just don’t produce the result. We can and should go further too. Any place that is rich has been that roughly capitalist, marketist and tradist for some time now. Those places that have only in recent decades adopted the trio are getting rich. Those that still haven’t done so are still poor.

Sure, there’s a spectrum of possible policies, from Sweden’s tax heavy social democracy to Hong Kong’s near laissez faire. But that is a spectrum that always includes our trio.

Tim Worstall